Philosophical Gossip

Socrates, the Athenian Philosopher, is still celebrated today as one of the founders of “Western Philosophy”. As much as he is famous for his teachings, it is his wisdom and integrity that I want to discuss here.

The story* goes that one day, the great philosopher was confronted by a colleague who, with a pained expression said, “Socrates, I need to tell you what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates sternly replied. “I don’t just listen to gossip. Before telling me anything, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”

“Triple Filter?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “actually, I just heard about it and …”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the Filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary …”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left, the Filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really,” said the man, now totally exasperated.

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The man walked away, his head repentantly bowed.

This is why Socrates was considered a great philosopher, and the wisest man in Greece.

So what am I getting at? I’m discussing the pre-budget discussions that make up the majority of our news and media output this week. It appears that giving expert opinions, about unconfirmed reports, passes mustard as news.

We have more speculators on the radio than cash buyers at a fire sale. Everyone is telling us how the (unconfirmed) budget will affect us. The reportage is awash with unconfirmed changes to Pensions, USC and tax bands; not to mention the guesstimates about new social project spending.

I won’t bore you with links to articles on speculation. If I was to discuss these kite flying speculations, I wouldn’t pass the Triple Filter test. Whatever the journalists/columnists/commentators/politicians are saying across the platforms is currently not True or Good or Useful.All they are doing is philosophically gossiping.

Think of Socrates, remember how he abruptly ended the gossip before it started. Remember how he filtered out the background noise and demonstrated his wisdom.

Just neglect the fact that, by not hearing out his colleague, Socrates never found out that Plato was having an affair with his wife.

Tony Groves October 2016 Image result for socrates botanic gardens

*okay, so it was a joke, but you get the point.

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